Going Greek: The Pros and Cons of Pledging

You’ve seen the movies that show shapely sorority sisters conducting pillow fights in their underwear, or drunken frat boys pulling pranks on rival houses. You’ve heard your parents talk about the glory days of college, when their brothers and sisters in the Greek system became their new families. You’re well aware of hazing (the laws that govern its limits and the students who break them anyway) and you know you’ll have to dress like a preppy, learn your house song, and take vows of some sort. What you may not know is what pledging a sorority or fraternity really entails and what you stand to get out of it.

Going Greek can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a huge commitment. During pledge week, you will visit several houses and then you will receive bids (meaning the house has accepted you), at which point you must choose one, usually committing to one year at the house before you can pledge a different fraternity or sorority (although you are free to leave at any time). Once you have committed, you will go through a “hell week” that generally includes some sort of good natured “hazing” (for lack of a better term) usually consisting of wearing silly outfits, participating in pranks, and becoming familiar with your house and your new brothers or sisters. At the end of the week, you’re in. You move into the house and commence to partake in a range of social activities designed to introduce you to others (mixers, BBQs, and so on) and benefit the larger community (charitable work, fundraisers, etc.). The best thing about pledging and joining the Greek system is that you will have an instant group of companions, several mentors, and a lifelong network for the future.

The drawbacks, however, can be equally compelling. There is a time commitment involved, as you will be expected to participate in events and contribute both in the house (chores) and during community service, fundraisers, or outreach, for which Greek houses are well known (and often pursue competitively). In addition, most houses have a mandatory residence requirement for new members, so if you don’t get along with your housemates, you may have to shut up and live with it or quit altogether. You may also face a certain amount of social expectations from a group that is known for partying and physical appearance. This can put a lot of pressure on a new student who is also trying to contend with focusing on their studies and even holding down a job.

In the long run, if you’re interested in pledging, you can benefit from doing a little homework. Certain organizations are going to offer what you want, while others will fall short, so find out which houses embody the moral values, academic sensibilities, and charitable goals you desire. Then consider, as you visit, which houses seem the most comfortable and which occupants make you feel the most welcome. You’ll find that by using your heart and your mind, you can enter a situation that offers both social rewards and intellectual and emotional fulfillment. Some houses will help you while others will only be a hindrance. So take your time and choose the one that is right for you. After all, you’re the one who has to live with the decision.

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